Norwegian culture meets Mickey

Visit Walt Disney World’s Norway Pavilion

Norway Pavilion

Photo: Liliane Opsomer
Vikings abound at Norway Pavilion.

Liliane Opsomer
Birmingham, Ala.

Showcasing Norway’s culture for 30 years, the Norway Pavilion continues to attract crowds. Located between Mexico and China inside Epcot’s World Showcase, it is the only pavilion open to guests two hours earlier than other pavilions.

How it All Began

On June 3, 1988, in a ceremony broadcast live to Norway, King Harald V of Norway opened Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. It was the last to join World Showcase and, to this day, one of the most visited. Norwegian investors raised $30 million to create the beautiful tribute to their country while Disney paid for one-third of the costs. The investors sold their stake to Disney in 1992. To promote tourism, the Norwegian government contributed $200,000 annually for the upkeep of the pavilion until 2002 when the sponsorship ended.

Let’s Take a Tour

Norway Pavilion

Photo: Liliane Opsomer
The centerpiece of the Norway Pavilion is a replica of Gol Stave Church.

The 58,000-square-foot pavilion, designed to resemble a typical Norwegian village, features several distinct styles of Norwegian architecture. The most recognizable building of the Norway Pavilion is the replica of Norway’s 12th-century Gol Stave Church. Inside the church, exhibits reflect the myths and legends that guided the Vikings in their daily lives. Artifacts represent tales of the popular Viking gods Odin, Thor, Loki, and Freya.

The Fjording shop offers Norway-themed apparel and best represents the Bergen style, while the façade of the gift store, called Puffin’s Roost, features the Setestal style. At Puffin’s Roost, guests love to don Viking hats and take pictures in front of a giant troll. Puffin’s Roost is also home to one of the Kidcot Fun Stops where Norwegian cast members share insights about their country with little tykes.

Norway Pavilion

Photo: Liliane Opsomer
The outside of the Royal Sommerhus was inspired by Norwegian log cabins

The Oslo style is showcased at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, a sit-down restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A replica of the 14th-century Akershus Castle in Oslo, the venue is extremely popular for its princess-hosted character dining. The interior of the castle features high ceilings, stone archways, luxurious carpet, and regal banners. Disney’s Imagineers took liberties here as the fairy tale inside does not reflect the original castle and fortress that began construction in 1299 under King Håkon V. But guests get to meet and interact with royalty. Ariel, Belle, Snow White, Princess Aurora, and Cinderella entertain and visit with guests while they feast on Norwegian-inspired cuisine.

Breakfast offerings include a smørgåsbord of smoked salmon, gjetost cheese, mackerel, as well as scrambled eggs and an amazing potato casserole. At lunch and dinner, highlights are Scandinavian seafood, kjøttkake (Norwegian meatballs served with mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and lingonberry sauce), and raspeballer (Scandinavian potato dumplings with zucchini, leeks, peas, and mushrooms served in a coconut-curry sauce).

For a snack, the Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe is one of my favorite stops. Go for the traditional kjøttkake, and try lefse (thin potato flat-bread rolled with cinnamon butter) or skolebrød (a sweet cardamom bun filled with vanilla crème custard and topped with glazed and toasted coconut). Kids will, of course, love the Frozen-themed pastries.

The full-scale Viking ship, inspired by the famous Oseberg ship, was unfortunately removed in 2008.

Norway Pavilion

Photo: Liliane Opsomer
Inside the stave church you’ll find, somewhat anachronistically, exhibits on Norse mythology and other Viking topics.

A ride and an attraction based on a movie

Maelstrom, the original attraction of the Norway pavilion, closed in September 2014 and reopened in 2016 as the Frozen Ever After ride. The beautiful Ålesund style building, however, did not change.

The Maelstrom ride passed through scenes of Norway’s Viking days, where guests would come face to face with a three-headed troll before plummeting down a 28-foot flume. After the ride, guests had the option of watching The Spirit of Norway, a 5-minute film showcasing Norway’s natural beauty.

With the success of Disney’s animated film Frozen, it came as no surprise when the company announced that it would convert the Maelstrom ride into a Frozen-themed attraction and that guests would be able to meet Elsa the Queen of Arendelle and her sister Princess Anna in their royal summerhouse.

Frozen, loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, The Snow Queen, takes place in Arendelle, a town inspired by coastal Arendal, a city in Aust-Auger County in southeastern Norway. With a Broadway musical, a Frozen On Ice show, and a sequel in the works, rest assured, Frozen fever is here to stay.

The Frozen Ever After boat ride takes guests to Arendelle’s Summer Snow Day Festival, following the same path formerly used in the Maelstrom ride. Throughout the journey, riders meet Elsa; Anna; Kristoff; the reindeer Sven; Marshmallow, the snowman Elsa creates; the adorable Snowgies from the Frozen Fever short; and everyone’s favorite snowman, Olaf.

The Royal Sommerhus, a character-meet-and-greet, is decorated with tokens from Queen Elsa and Princess Anna’s childhood. When creating the Royal Sommerhus, Disney Imagineers took inspiration from an antique log cabin in Norway. The interior conveys the look and feel of Norwegian architecture and crafts, complete with painted furniture, a stone hearth, and tapestries. In a tribute to Maelstrom, one of the tapestries depicts the three-headed troll of the extinct ride.

After touring the house, guests eventually get their meeting and photo op with Anna and Elsa. The tour ends next door in The Wandering Reindeer shop where guests find a huge selection of Frozen-inspired merchandise.

In an effort to entertain guests who are waiting in line for the attractions, a pair of Vikings roam the land creating mayhem. While they are a far cry from educating visitors about Nordic culture, they are hilarious.

One could argue that Maelstrom was more in line with the original concept, but the success of Frozen will continue to drive visitors to the Norway pavilion, guaranteeing a prevailing interest in Norwegian culture, architecture, and food.

Liliane Opsomer is a freelance writer specialized in theme park reporting and a member of the freelance council of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers). She is also the co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. For her daily tips on visiting Walt Disney World follow her on Twitter (@lilianeopsomer) or check out her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheUnofficialGuideToWaltDisneyWorldWithKids).

This article originally appeared in the November 30, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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